Less is more (usually)

I’m preparing myself for a minimalistic future. Something around 90 square feet, if all goes as planned, so needless to say I have some changes to make. Today I took my first step in downsizing. I just chose one clothing item to start with. Dresses. This shouldn’t take long, I thought.

I was wrong. That dark, cobweby corner of my closet housed not 10, not 15, but TWENTY-SEVEN dresses.

Considering that I only wear three of them, this discovery was shocking. I made a rapid discovery that 70% of them did not fit me. I can’t tell you how fantastic that corner of my closet looks now that I’ve pared the twenty-seven down to six. It’s stressful, really, to look at clothing you never wear. I always think “Man, I should buy a shirt to wear with that.” or “I really should iron that so I could wear it.” But I never do, and so it all just piles up and makes me feel guilty.

I’ve been hiking backwoods trails for the past six months, and I’ve worn the same shirt nearly the entire time. I have an entirely new relationship with clothing these days. I mean, I’m not quite ready to wear the same shirt for six months. Not yet.

But, simple is fun. It leaves time for more adventurous undertakings.

There is one downside to minimalistic wardrobe that I really should mention, however. That is this: if you lose an item, things go downhill with surprising rapidity. When your goal is to climb mountains, this is not good. It’s not good at all.

I remember setting out on the Appalachian Trail in the mountains of Virginia one particularly foggy April day.

Fog envelopes the forest on Whitetop Mountain, Virginia

 

Kaio, my long-distance hiking buddy, and I had been waiting for spring weather ever since our journey began, and today it felt like spring had finally arrived–there was just the right combination of damp and wind and subtle humidity in the air.

Our blazes followed the Virginia Creeper Trail for a few miles, and there was a invigorating hint of danger in the dark-tinted clouds that sped across the higher, whiter cloud cover–a stark contrast to the reassuring civility of the Creeper Trails smooth, evenly manicured gravel.

Kaio was hiking ahead of me that day and was already out of sight, her short, quick strides difficult for my long legs to match. I wished she was with me as I entered a dense pine thicket.

I’d always told her that a pine thicket would be the place where some gruesome tragedy would befall me, if anywhere. It was just the sort of lonely place an animal with ill intentions would choose to lurk (at least, that’s always what they show in the movies) and the grey drizzle of rain made the setting even more eerie.

I hadn’t gotten halfway up the first 1,000 foot climb before the heavens opened and poured their bounty upon the earth–and me. The raindrops bounced off my hat and I knew if I tried to quickly don rain gear the pounding drops would soak through the shoulder seams of my rain coat. It’s called a rain coat after all, not a Dryness Preservative. No rain jacket is truly waterproof, I reminded myself sternly, so I just decided to enjoy the storm. I sang and splashed my way up the trail (it was really more similar to a creek) with the greatest enjoyment.

I felt exactly like my former 8-year-old self who used to come up with excuses to go outside any time there was a summer rainstorm. It was grand, let me tell you!

An upbeat song bounced through the rodedendron thicket surrounding Lost Mountain Shelter, and I rounded the last bend to see that it came from the fingers of my friends Canuck and Moonboots, huddled in the shadows of the overhanging roof, both playing their travel-size ukuleles and waiting out the rain. I wrote “Yay for coffee! -Nike” in the logbook, took a healthy swig of the same, and was on my way. Moonboots looked discouraged, and I wished I could stay and cheer him up.

But I was soaked to the bone, and knew if I stopped for more than five minutes my blood temperature would drop dramatically. So I wished him well and scurried on my way.

The wind bit deep near Buzzard Rock, and I began to question my sanity for allowing my clothes to get soaked. My skin was cold to my own touch, and I was not yet at the days highest elevation. “Jesus, please keep me from being stupid.” I breathed over and over again, and kept on hiking, on and on past the rocky, mysteriously cloud-swept summit of Whitetop Mountain and down the wooded northern side. The parking lot for the summit trail was foggy and deserted.

 As I descended the mountain, my blood pressure dropped and I felt the first shiver come on.

I knew it was time to get dry, so I dashed into a rhododendron patch to riskily ditch my wet clothes and change into my rain pants and rain coat. My raingear was a significant buffer against the wind, and I felt confident and warm once again. I refused to worry about Kaio. “She’s experienced.” I told myself. “Her backpack contains everything she needs to stay warm.”

I bounded down the mountain towards Route 600, and was shocked to hear a voice call out my name from the woods near the parking lot. “Nike!” It was Kaio, who had decided to set up camp early, along with most of the other hikers who had passed me earlier in the day.

“Cool Dad said that anyone who climbs up to Thomas Knob Shelter in this weather is crazy!” Kaio said, “And who are we to prove him wrong?”  I laughingly agreed, relieved that my friend was safe. I was more than happy to set up camp and change into my fleece hoodie and down vest.

Kaio had a pile of wood gathered in no time, and we soon had a fire blazing. It was a tall, impressive blaze, and I must admit we looked down our noses at the smoky, floundering fire of our neighbors. We never said it, but of course we were thinking the same thing.

“Front-country people. They have no idea how to thrive in rough conditions.”

I held my rain-soaked shorts beside the blaze, waving them gently to avoid spark holes. Kaio did the same. It took only a little while for the shorts to become nearly dry. The remaining dampness would dissipate inside my sleeping bag tonight, I knew, so I folded the shorts and set them on a warm rock on the opposite side of the fire ring, away from the flames.

I was feeling pretty tough, to be honest. Kaio and I had gone from near-hypothermic to dry in toasty in just two hours, and had cooked dinner and dried our clothes to boot. Not too bad for a pair of beginners!

I bent down to pick up my folded shorts… but–what was this? My shorts were in my hand but a small ashy pile remained on the rock. Confused, I flipped the shorts around and gasped in dismay. Two brown-rimmed spheres smiled back at me.

“They melted!” I gasped.

Sure enough, the rock had been hot instead of just warm, and the polyester fabric at the back of my shorts had shriveled away. Kaio laughed and held her own shorts towards me in response.

I yelped again. “What!!?” She had scorched her shorts too, in a sudden burst of flame. We dissolved in laughter. Great, just great. We were about to enter one of Virginias most popular state parks, the Grayson Highlands…. and now we’d be sporting large burned spots on the back of our shorts. I could just imagine a faint trail of dusty ashes floating in our wake as the scorched polyester continued to crumble and fall.

As if people didn’t already have enough reason to feel sorry for us.

There are places where duct tape patches look snazzy, but we were pretty sure smack-dab on the glute muscles of two hikers was not included on this list. Yet, through-hikers do not carry a back-up set of hiking clothing. A ride to Walmart would cost the same as 9 pairs of shorts.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but creativity surely never has.

Kaio cleverly concealed the faltering remains of her shorts under her trail skirt. I mournfully parted with mine at the privy waste can, and resorted to my rain pants. It was an incredibly humid experience inside those rain pants, let me assure you. Consequently, I was forced to wear them on the longest day of our entire hike–25 miles.

Maybe the forever-lingering hint of sweat on my expensive rain pants will remind me not to snoot my nose at other campers who don’t know how to start a wet-wood fire.

At least, it has so far.

 

Advertisements

That Bum On My Couch

I was in the second-to-front pew at church the other week, and I was feeling the morning blues.

Do you know what I mean? That sandy-eyed, groggy-voiced, brain-not-quite-awake feeling of sluggishness that isn’t really ready for 120 decibels of worship music being emanated directly in front of oneself.

Don’t get me wrong, the band was great. I liked them, really. I’m usually the type to get into the celebration spirit right away…. but that day, I just…. wasn’t.

I tried desperately to focus on the positive side of life, like the two adorable little girls dancing in front of me, carefree as could be. It helped a little.

Then the pastor took the stage, and he told a story.

“Imagine going home from church today,” he said, “And finding a bum fast asleep on your couch. He is stoned, snoring, and you have no idea who he is. What would you do?

bum

Hmm. Let me guess. You’d try to make him leave. Maybe pat him on the shoulder, say “Excuse me, sir. You’re in the wrong house.” But what if that didn’t work?

You’d get a little more violent, maybe go so far as to poke him, maybe even raise your voice. “HEY, SIR. THIS IS NOT YOUR HOME! YOU NEED TO LEAVE!”

But what if he just went right on snoring? What if he rolled over, looked you in the eyes, said, “Excuse YOU, but this IS my house!” and went back to sleep?

Would you shrug, assume he was right, and just live your life around him? What if he invited his friends over, and they all claimed that this house belonged to them as well? Would you accept that?

You see, friends… your level of persistence shows what you truly believe.

If you truly believe the bum does not belong in your house, you will fight back harder, call your buddies to help you drag him out of your house, maybe get the police involved. You would take as much time as necessary to evict him.

What about your spiritual life?

When temptation, fear, sickness, depression, shame, and the 1,000 other tools of the enemy sneak their way into your ‘house’…. do you accept them?

Do you politely try to evict them, and if they do not obey the first time… or the 12th time…. just assume they are meant to stay? Or do you hold FAST to your knowledge of what is yours, and fight for it until everything is set right?

Do you BELIEVE that God can if He wants to?

Do you believe that He might not be able?

Your level of persistence shows what you truly believe in. “

And that is what I learned on a half-awake Sunday morning, from the second-to-front pew.

How to make your way through a crowd of shoppers

fullaisle

We’ve all been that frizzy-haired, hangry (I.E. angry because of hunger, for those of you not acquainted with aforementioned colloquialism), bone-tired shopper, frustrated with the crowds that malls and department stores attract, and wishing we could afford to patronize small, local shops alone.

Maybe these six steps will spur you on to a happier Walmart stride.

 

I didn’t say they would, mind you.

I just said…. maybe.

STEP ONE: Make a plan. Know your budget, what you need and what you could get instead if you can’t find what you need.

STEP TWO: Once in the store, choose a goal.

STEP THREE: Begin walking confidently ahead, never taking your eyes off the goal.

STEP FOUR: If you encounter a person in your path, do not look them in the eye.

Eye contact will spur a sort of “Oh, this stranger must want to dance!” chemical inside both your brains, evoking a awkward and crab-like number which will eventually end in one of you stopping or tripping, and the other awkwardly apologizing as they move ahead. Instead, slow your pace a bit and keep moving towards your goal, never taking your eyes off the goal.

STEP FIVE: If you encounter a non-avoidable roadblock…

That is non-human (I.E. a mid-aisle display): navigate around it on the path less traveled.

That is human(I.E. moms with small children, those with physical disabilities, seniors, or anyone who lacks the ability to navigate as easily as you): Stop, allow them to pass, look them in the eye as you greet them courteously, and then continue on your way. The mood-boost you get from treating another person with dignity and respect will provide you with a surge of extra strength for your journey.

STEP SIX: Arrive at goal. Seize product and beat your chest while doing the mighty jungle call. You are a winner. You have run the race, and won.

And, if our minds were feeling allegorical, we could parallel these steps in some way to another, more important journey…..

But I’ll leave that to you.

Happy conquering!

The Terror That Flieth By Night….

It was three a.m. and I awoke to purring in the rafters above my bed.

If I would have woken up hungry for a snack, it would have been ok, and I would pilfered some cookies and gone back to bed. If it had been a housemate sleep-talking, no big deal. If it had been coyotes howling at the harvest moon, I would have enjoyed it a bit, and soon dozed off.

But no. This was purring.

Loud, unceasing, un-cat-produced purring that had disturbed my sleep the entire month.

THIS was war.

Slinging my slug-like body over the wrong side of bed, I punched that ceiling as hard as I could. My fist slammed through the drywall and out again in a shower of crumbles.

Before my sleep-numbed mind could fully comprehend the significance of that fact….

small creatures began pouring out of the now-gaping, fist sized hole.

Bees.

I careened out of the room as fast as my fogged brain would allow, and cautiously peeped through the crack of the door.

Yes. Bees were filling my room, pouring out of the hole in the ceiling in a slow but steady stream. I closed the door, and stared weakly at myself in the bathroom mirror for a good while.

A plan began to formulate in my mind.

10 minutes later, I climbed the stairs in full-on combat gear. Orange down winter jacket, water-proof hunting boots, gloves, insulated dungarees…. I had it all. Think, obese pumpkin merged with Si Robertson, and you’ll have a general picture. All I needed yet was a patch for the hole in the ceiling, and I would be ready to save the day.

Ri-i-i-iiip. RIP. Rippppp.

No matter how you tear it, silently creating a duct-tape patch in the still of night was impossible to do. My sister’s door opened and she blinked at me with groggy amazement.

“Don’t be alarmed! It’s just me.” I wasn’t sure what her reaction would be to a gloved, dungaree-wearing form in the semi-darkness. “It’s bees.” I said, and explained.

She, dear lamb, believed my dubious declaration that the situation was under control, and retreated.

Patch made, I shrouded my head inside a thin pillowcase, pulled my hood up, laid the patch across my open palm, and crept inside the infested room as quietly as heavy hunting boots would allow. The pillowcase was light blue and limited my vision quite considerably.

By the dim light of a small lamp, I could see that bees were continuing to swarm out of the hole in the ceiling. Their inquisitive buzzing throughout the room alarmed me. I shifted the pillowcase, but that did nothing to improve my vision.

Were bees…. landing on me?

Were they slowly crawling towards my NECK?

Would I be stung until my face looked like an Osage orange, and I was forced to spend my entire (tiny) savings on steroid shots?

braintree1[1]

My face was turning bright red within the stifling layers of my protective gear.

Fight or flight?” I asked myself, and being as it was 3:30 a.m., and I had made it only half way across the room, and was even more overheated, and Osage-orange-looking-people are rather obtrusively unattractive (although I’ve never seen one, and was just going by intuition), and I really hate doctor bills… flight seemed much more logical.

So, 4:00 found a non-triumphant, non-osage-orange, non-obese-pumpkin girl curled up on the couch, asleep.

Victory could wait until daylight, and it did.

 

Another 8 a.m. lesson

My friends and I went camping on Assateague Island for my friend’s 21st birthday.

We camped in the State Park area, which was blooming with dune goldenrod (which is unusual), and teeming with people (as it is all season).

We strolled the beach as the setting sun tainted the cloud-filled sky with a hundred hues, roasted hotdogs over a smoky fire,

IMG_20141012_193329_106

wrapped up in blankets and laid on the beach to star gaze and watch the moon rise orangely over the water, snored all night in the tent like a pile of cats, and woke up with the first bird calls to watch the sunrise on the beach.

untitled

And then….

the ponies came.

It was cute and kind of funny, really, to see 4 little docile frames trotting through a half-asleep campground, nosing at shrubs and tendrils of grass as if they had just been let out to pasture for the day–as if they never even noticed the entourage of 9-year-olds on bikes behind them, or the sleep-disheveled lady on her way to the bathhouse who stopped and ran back to take their picture.

It was funny to see them nose into the doorway of a neighboring camper’s tent and rummage through the contents of a Styrofoam cooler which was too weak to withstand their practiced ransacking.

My friends laughed, and as a joke we took pictures of them in the  background as we settled down to our long-awaited breakfast, prepared to watch the saga continue to unfold.

And then they turned our way.

Noses down, steadily they came towards us, but we knew what was up. My friends and I gazed longingly at our half-eaten breakfasts on the table, knowing we had to follow park rules and give the ponies a 10-foot wake.

“Don’t worry, guys. I got this.” I boldly stated, and walked towards them commandingly, waving and clapping my hands.

Noses down, they steadily advanced past me, eyes zeroed in on our breakfast.

“Never mind. HIDE THE FOOD!” I screeched, desperately swooping up what I could reach. And then I leaned against the car and laughed.

It was chaos.

One of my friends was grabbing the last cinnamon buns out of reach of the hungry jaws, one was taking pictures and one was literally wrestling a hot dog skewer out of a pony’s mouth.

With the innocence of a dove, Assateague’s native ponies had effortlessly taken over our picnic table, where a very pleasant breakfast HAD been taking place not 4 minutes prior.

IMG_20141013_082951_043

What goes around, comes around.” They say.

“Do to others what you would prefer them to do to you.” Those are Jesus’ words.

Both a good thing to remember at 8 a.m.

That is, if you value your breakfast.

 

 

Jesus was homeless, too.

I don’t live in the city anymore, but when I did, I never once gave money to sign-holders. I’ve never dropped even so much as a quarter in a Salvation Army bucket. That’s a shame.

No, it’s more than that. It’s a complete disgrace.

I met a homeless man named Richard LeMieux last week, and if I would have judged him by his looks and name alone, I would have laughed and said, “It’s all a game. People with high-class, French-sounding names aren’t homeless. Look at him! He has a dog! Homeless people don’t have dogs. And he has a van. What a lazy bum.”

But then I saw the dejection in his eyes, and the humiliation, and the hopelessness. I knew, even before I had heard five minutes of his story.

This man really is homeless. But that’s not the reason for the pain in his eyes. His heart is shattered because he is alone, scorned and rejected. 

Richard LeMieux was depressed.

Depression is a taskmaster who steers the wheels of many, many….. FAR too many lives. No one sees these lives, because they are too ugly—too unpredictable to look at. Yet denying their existence does not cause them or their problems to disappear, and so they exist, and careen farther and farther into the ever more arid desert of un-lovedness. Richard is one, and it didn’t happen by choice. He didn’t start out homeless.

It wasn’t the choice of the 30 men and woman eating ham around me at the Catholic nunnary, the people who had nowhere to go on Christmas morning.

It wasn’t their choice that EVERY single one of their friends disowned them.

It wasn’t their choice that their business went bankrupt and the bank took all they owned.

It wasn’t their choice to be a victim of abuse, and to live life on the move from city to city, hiding for their life.

And the ugliest part of their reality is that almost nobody takes the time to understand them–and that fact alone is the most undeniable proof that they are unwanted and unloved.

Richard and his friend C–two real people with beating hearts just like yours and mine–sat down together one day, having just seen their homeless friend Adrian being dragged behind a car in retaliation for a drug deal gone bad. This is what they said.


 

“You know who the most famous homeless man in history was, don’t you Richard?”

“No.”

“Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head, Jesus said.”

“I should have known that.”

“You, Richard, are in good company.”

“People were afraid of Jesus.”

“Yes, and people are afraid of the homeless today. And they are disgusted when they see a person digging through a garbage can or a dumpster. They’re frightened when someone unclean talks to them—afraid they might ask for money, afraid they will steal their car or rob their house or stab them.

teen

But it isn’t the homeless they should fear.

It’s the people who have jobs and money—like that truck painter, Gary Ridgeway, aka the Green River Killer. Did you know he admitted to killing forty-eight women in Washington State? He’s the deadliest killer in the United States to date.”

“Yes, I did read that.”

“Can you imagine that one Christmas Eve, Ridgeway got off work early, cashed his Christmas bonus check, went to the mall, bought some presents on his MasterCard, had dinner at home with the wife, and then went out and killed a young woman and dumped her body along the road?

She was one of those disgusting, homeless prostitutes people fear.

H—, maybe the %$@# did her a favor! She would probably have had to sell her body over and over again for ten, maybe fifteen years just to pay for a three-hundred-dollar-a-month apartment, electric and water, and a run-down car!

People should REALLY be afraid of guys like the Tacoma police chief who shot his wife to death in the parking lot at the mall. Or the son of the director of the Department of Corrections for Washington state who raped a two-year-old. He pleaded guilty and got a whole six months! If a homeless guy had done that, he’d get life in prison!

You know, the big thing that sets the homeless apart is that they usually only commit crimes out of desperation. Those with homes and jobs commit crimes out of boredom or hatred or greed.

‘You are not needed anywhere, not wanted anywhere. Nobody cares what you do.’ And you know, unless people have been there—lost, alone, rejected, feeling worthless and unwanted— they just can’t know the numb feeling that drags you down. All the dreams are gone, gone forever. You’re just hoping for some force to end the nightmare peacefully.

Whatever happened to Emma Lazarus’s sonnet on the Statue of Liberty? ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’

Homelessness in this great country of the United States is an abomination!

But the great masses—who are only one paycheck or one stroke of luck better off themselves— even THEY repeat the same great lies about the homeless: ‘They are lazy. They don’t want to work. They are drunks, bums, drug-using, worthless scum.’

If you tell the same lie over and over again about the homeless, eventually it becomes the truth. You tell your wife the lie, then you tell your children the lie. Rush Limbaugh and Mike Savage then broadcast the lie, and politicians who want your vote politicize the lie. The lie just grows and grows.

The homeless are human beings. Okay, so they are people with problems—some greater than others. But there is no problem that can’t be overcome with love, patience and kindness. Given help and a sense of direction, most will help themselves and even help others.”

-Dialoge between C and Richard, Breakfast at Sally’s by Richard LeMieux


Homelessness in America is an abomination! But even worse? My response.

So, what am I going to do about it?

 Love. Not fear.

 

 

 

 

Don’t eat in the shower, kids.

If you had an awkward week, let me tell you about mine.

Maybe it will make you feel better.

I had to practice my swimming this week, and this is how it went.

meow

I didn’t make my week’s goal.

I had to call someone I’d never called before, and I didn’t know his voicemail only lasts 15 seconds. It’s awkward to have your info chopped off in the middle.

“Hi, this is Kara and I’m calling to register for–BEEP.”—*Confused pause. Switches to Brian Regan accent.*—“For that class! You know, the one that most people named Kara like to register for! Just send me a smoke signal and we can communicate that way.”

Unfortunately the phone just stared at me blankly, unimpressed.

Shucks.

I went to work, and 30 minutes after I arrived the chef walked out. For good. One of the waitresses didn’t show up because she didn’t realize it was her night to work. So I and the other waitress each needed to do two people’s tasks.

When I got home in the dark of night, exhausted and FILTHY, I ran upstairs eating a snack. You know those Ritz cracker things that have chocolate and caramel in between? They are awesome, by the way, so if you’ve never tried them you should. Well, I jumped into the shower, still trying to chew the caramel and somehow I choked.

In. The shower.

Like, a much-worse-than-gagging-on-a-wayfaring-grape feeling. More like somebody-save-me-my-windpipe-is-98%-blocked.

Which is much better than if it had been 100% blocked.

Grabbing a towel and making LOUD gasping sounds like I imagine the ostrich doing when it swallowed Curious George’s bugle, I stumbled to my sister’s room.

She, her near-asleep stupor quickly switched to first-aid-instinct, stared in horror, and asked “Kara! Are you choking?? Are you choking?” while preparing to crush my ribs in a mighty Heimlich hug. Thankfully, by that time I had the presence of mind to bend over, and the wad of caramel-y cracker partially dislodged itself.

The frightful wheezes turned to coughing.

My mother appeared, and stared in horror. “WHAT is going on?” But what she really meant was, “Why is my daughter dripping wet, clothed like a roman statue, and gasping at the head of the stairs at this unrighteous hour of the night??!”

By this time I was laughing sheepishly between the coughs.

I could imagine trying to explain this one to an EMT. “Well yes, it actually is my common practice to eat crackers in highly humid environments, but I’ve never CHOKED before….”

“I think I’ll resume my shower now,” I said, and so I did, leaving my personal first responders to stand there shaking their heads.

Did you think life with adult children was gonna be calm and easy?

Ohhh, no.

It’s nothing like calm around here.

But at least the dog has finally stopped howling at the moon.

Pain is Holy

“I was on tour, and a friend who was on tour with me went through a really rough valley.

She experienced a miscarriage.

I was with her the day after, and I asked her how she was…. what was going on for her inside. She said, “You know, the only words that keep rising up in my mind are, “I’m sorry… I’m so, so sorry.”

Pain does that to us, ya know?

When we’re stripped low, down to that level, what’s deep within us comes out.

For my friend, it was taking blame. Shame. A deep-rooted part of herself… not created by her pain, but brought to the surface because of it.

We all know the story of Job, right? He thought his life was pretty rough… and then his friends came and made it even worse.

The last thing he wanted to hear was a list of condemnations…. a list of things he had done to deserve to be in this place…. a list of ways he could get out of his painful place and be “back to being a ‘good’, ‘normal’ person”.

The reality is, pain isn’t a wrong place to be. It is a holy place, because

it is a place God uses to bring the hidden places of our hearts into the light.

I remember another time when I was on tour, and wading through a really dark valley. A friend was with me in the back of the van one afternoon, and asked what was going on for me. I told him, but as I did so, I was constantly bracing myself, waiting for him to offer advice that would prove to me why, if I was a good person, I really shouldn’t still be in this place.

He didn’t say a word.

When I was done talking, he stood up, and made me stand up too. He told me to take off my watch. I did. He said, “I’m going to hug you. I’m gonna hug you now for two minutes, and I’m gonna time it, ‘cuz you’re not going anywhere.”

Now you have to know my friend. He’s a big, masculine, hairy-chested football dude. Not the kind you’d expect to go around hugging people.

I laughed at first, because it was awkward. But a half-minute into it…. I started to cry. Then I started to messy cry, blubbering all over my friends sleeve and just hanging limply, totally helpless.

The two minutes were up, and he hadn’t said a word.

But I knew exactly what he was saying, because his actions screamed, “You are not an outcast because you are in this place. This is a HOLY place, you are worth it, and I care.”

Pain is a holy place, and in the presence of holiness it’s best to just keep quiet.”

100_5719

As he told this story, the emotions on Jason’s face clearly showed that this was a lesson he had learned the hard way. And after a moment’s hush, he began to sing the song his own journey through pain had inspired,

“You could see the smoke from a mile away. Trouble always draws a crowd. They wanna tell me that it’ll be ok… but that’s not what I need right now….”

_______________________________________________________________

Listen to the rest of the song HERE, and don’t forget to buy Jason Gray’s new album!

My Best Addiction

Now that you all know I’m addicted to gummy bears….. (and oh happy day, I got a whole 1-lb bag of them for my birthday) I gotta tell ya’ll about my FAVORITE addiction.

hd

The one I plug into when I get upset at my boss.

Or when I’m preparing to teach.

Or when I’m bored by a mindless task.

Or when I’m driving, sitting, chewing, moping, running, or staring for hours at a blank computer screen.

Pretty much, I plug in all the time. My father loves it. Tiny kiddos love it. Basically, a win no matter who you are.

Am I gonna tell you what it is? Ohhhh no. Watch it on YouTube HERE.

And join the stampede of audio/visual learners!

We’re happy to have you 🙂

(Oh yeah…. and it’s available on Audible for free, with a one-month free trial subscription. You’re welcome.)

My Yellow Dress & What Sounded Like A Helicopter

I was 18, and my first car was a Mercury Sable station wagon.

Eggy

Eggshell-tan, except for where the paint was peeling to reveal a lighter color underneath. Inside, the upholstery was ripped and if you plopped into your seat too hard dust would fall from the exposed and brittle insulation in the ceiling. The license plate was ‘EGY-4849’, so we called my heroic steed ‘Eggy’.

Oh, and I forgot to mention… this car was one of those stylish station wagons where you could pull the floor of the trunk up into a rear-facing seat. Needless to say, all of my friends BEGGED to go riding with me.

One warm day in spring, my bestie and I decided to go to the mall. In Eggy, which was an instant ticket to high class.

In the true spirit of the season, we donned our girly best, and I distinctly remember wearing a new yellow dress. It was a short, fluffy dress, and I remember it because I didn’t have a lot of yellow clothing at the time and because I didn’t wear many short dresses and because girls just do remember stuff like that.

Laughing and listening to the radio and joking about –well–things girls joke about, my friend and I were long-gone on our merry way when we heard a strange sound.

Wup-wup-wup.

Kinda like a helicopter.

chopper

It got louder.

Peering dubiously out the windows while speeding–well, less polite people might term Eggy’s locomotion as ‘careening’–down the highway, we tried to figure out where this foul aircraft could be, and why it was hovering so low.

Turns out, there was no helicopter.

There was only one dysfunctional Eggy station wagon, one wheel decidedly flat, just past the off-ramp 4o minutes from home.

We called my dad. He was away from home, but tried to tell me what to do. At that point in my life, my only idea of a jack, other than my cousin Jack, was the large kind that are used in a mechanic’s shop.

I saw nothing of either sort in the trunk of my car.

So there I was, sitting in the trunk of a horrifically ugly station wagon, my little yellow skirt blowing in the breeze, trying to decipher what in the hoot my Dad was trying to describe to me above the racket of passing traffic as my friend did her best to aide me. We were the perfect picture of two damsels in distress.

What do you know, but a car pulled over behind us.

We, being young, dumb and trusting in the entire factuality of unhealthy local news stories circulating at the time, were petrified with terror.

“Here, hold the keys!” I hissed to my friend, convinced that these newcomers sole purpose for stopping was to hijack our disfuncionable steed. Two men walked up to us, both rednecks, the older man sporting a full beard and weathered face, the younger one handsome and shy-looking. “Hi, I’m —-, and this is my son, David. Can we help you?”

I tried to tell him no, while my dad, still on the phone, tried to tell him yes and my friend sat in the car grasping the keys with white-knuckled force. Finally, David’s dad, seeing he was getting nowhere, just knelt down and started loosening the lug nuts.

He tried to make comforting conversation.

“Do you know what you hit?”

“N… nooo.”—“we thought we heard a helicopter…” my brain wanted to finish, but I didn’t say that part out loud. Somehow, I got the faint impression that David and his father didn’t have the highest opinion of our common sense.

Another rackety vehicle pulled over. This was becoming quite the scene. My friend would never want to go shopping with me again!

These people were strangers as well.

“Are you a (local family) girl?”

“No…..”

“Oh, ok. Well, we just saw you by the side of the road with two men, and wanted to make sure you were ok.”

“Oh. I’m fine.” I said, and they eventually went on their way, still not convinced that I wasn’t the girl they thought I was.

David’s father had the spare on within minutes, and instructed us about the speeds with which we could drive on it. I was so flustered, I never even tipped him. But I did say “Thank you” with strongest feeling, and shook his honest hand while vowing never to judge a person by their appearance again.

Then my friend and I darted into Eggy’s safe recesses, shivered a little, laughed a little, and continued on our way to the mall, the indomitable high spirits of our youth restored by the pleasant outcome of our unfortunate situation.

But I still felt guilty for not tipping David’s dad, so I prayed blessings upon him for a week.

————————————————————————————————————————-

This morning, I blew a tire.

Impressively enough, I didn’t sweat it. I just pulled into Hess, shoveled to the bottom of my overstuffed trunk, pulled out my spare, and had that puppy changed in 15 minutes flat. Sitting here now, I laugh about the difference between today and the first time I had car trouble. It’s amazing how time changes things.

And it’s amazing how real friends remain your friend for years and still want to go shopping with you….

even if you break down in an ugly station wagon named Eggy, are scared of strangers, and get grease on your new yellow dress.